FRIDAY 20th NOVEMBER 2020

They say that every picture tells a story

This weeks’s story is about houseplants. They don’t pop everyone’s cork. Well, not yet….

And why bother with them? There’s enough to do in the garden. But, take a look outside. It’s raining. It’s grey. It’s freezing. And we still need our horticultural hit.

They’re a great introduction to the world of plants. Cheap and cheerful; decorative; they purify the air, our minds, bodies and souls; make fab presents to give and receive; can last for years and be handed down the generations, like family heirlooms.

Basically, what’s not to like? You could plan a whole house around them – or let them take over completely, once you really get the bug. Imagine –

Monstera deliciosa by the front door

a bit cheesey?

Cacti

So adaptable. Real fun and games to be had with them.

Time to make a statement in the hallway…

…and a fire in the grate

Cram them into every nook and cranny

Cook up a storm with them in the kitchen

Keep an apron handy

and pray you’re not prey

One or two might look nice on the stairs and landing

A terrarium can offer an aerial perspective

And there’s always room for more to live with you. In the living room

So, let’s celebrate the versatility of houseplants and raise a toast to them

Where’s the drinks trolley?

Make a splash with them in the bathroom

Time for a nice long bath

Or perhaps a shower?

You can just picture it

The care and maintenance of houseplants may seem rather intimidating at the outset. The general approach errs on the side of ‘Treat ’em mean to keep ’em green’. Kindness can kill and hence overwatering is one of the major causes of plant death. Consider where the plant comes from; many have their roots (sic) in tropical forests, so they need warmth and humidity. Many are happy with an occasional wash of water rather than sitting in puddles of the stuff. Some live on air. Some can’t abide draughts. We have relatives like that.

So. Courage! Let the right plant be lovingly put in the right place. And let Google be your watchword. Other search engines are available.

Plant Ident.

Once again, we are much indebted to Liz McCullough for her informative Houseplants essay, which she generously shared with us.

Fatsia Japonica

A splendidly architectural thing. Loves shade. Has superb, large, glossy green leaves. Variegated varieties available too. Apparently, these were originally grown as houseplants in the U.K., and only later were they planted more extensively outside. At G/H there is a specimen growing in a shady bathroom, along with many another plant. Take care not to go overboard with this passion as it will only lead to trouble.

Pilea peperomioides

Aka the Chinese Money Plant. Discovered in China by the plant hunter George Forest. Très trendy en ce moment. Needs a light, bright situation, but not in direct sunlight. Can be propagated from leaf cuttings. Water about once per week.

Senecio rowleyanus

A lovely thing when it dangles from a container. Like most succulents, String of Pearls is drought tolerant. Ensure its pot has drainage holes and a very dry, gritty compost. Water sparingly when the top few centimetres of compost are dry. Each individual ‘pearl’ will root (eventually) if planted. Patience.

Tillandsias

Air plants. Fascinating things. They filter airborne particulates – in other words, they clean the air. They don’t require potting soil, and only need a spray of water once or twice a week. If they start to dry up, give them a good soaking and then let them dry off upside down. Now we’re really beginning to see what can be done with some of these houseplants: Christmas baubles? Who knew?

Sedum Morganianum

The Donkey or Burro’s Tail, from the Crassulaceae family. It’s a succulent perennial and has tassel-like blue-green plumptious leaves which trail pleasingly over the sides of a container. Each of the little bead-like leaves will make a new plant if planted, but this will take time, so don’t sit and watch it. Needs a bright location, but not strong, direct sun. Hung in a pot in a particularly inconvenient position over a chair, it will thoroughly annoy people as they stand up. A great talking point.

Platycerium spp.

Stag’s Horn Fern is a plant much beloved at Garden House and a specimen from London’s Garden Museum has been shot and mounted to go on a bathroom wall at G/H. One suspects it’s the last space left. An epiphyte, it loves leaf mould, warmth, gentle light and humidity; in the wild it generally grows on trees in rainforests. Magnificent.

Our own beloved pets

Time for Show and Tell. We shared our own particular favourite houseplants and established that everyone has space for even one or two in their lives. A plant swap-shop to be held sometime in the future will undoubtedly see those numbers rise.

Tillandsia Usneioides

Spanish moss. An Airplant. Initially modelled as a rather splendid beard by its owner, but here seen behaving itself, draping elegantly downwards from a cupboard. Long, silvery grey strands grow like Rapunzel’s hair. Can bear small flowers with yellow-green petals. In the wild it grows hanging from tree branches. Bizarre – but everyone has put this on their list.

Aspidistra

The Cast Iron Plant. So-called because they are almost impossible to kill. In the unlikely event that this should happen to you, give up gardening. Embroidery would be nice. The Aspidistra. Keep it flying.

Oxalis triangularis

Known as ‘False Shamrock’, this plant is definitely not Irish in origin – it comes from Brazil. They open and close their flowers and leaves in response to light, and at night look like small, sleeping butterflies. Vivid purple leaves are offset by delicate white flowers. Long-lived and easy to grow, water sparingly when the soil has completely dried out.

Schefflera ‘Nora’

Cruelly abandoned and neglected, this plant was rescued from certain death by its current owner, who restored it to the marvellous condition we see it in today. The Umbrella Plant has long, shiny oval leaves grouped around a series of stalks. Likes indirect light, warmth and humidity. Can be pruned back if it gets too leggy.

Here’s a thought. Perhaps Friday Group should set up the R.S.P.C.H.?

Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’

The Peace Lily. It may be common, but it’s a magnificent plant, and an excellent one for a novice houseplantperson. Copes with very shady spots and helps purify the air. Easy (when it’s not too hot, too dry, too cold, too wet, too draughty or dead). Likes the occasional feed (organic seaweed feed is good) and re-potting into fresh compost as it grows. Produces white spathes held high on stiff stems. Leaf shine makes it sparkle. And that wallpaper sets it off a treat.

Schlumbergera truncata

Christmas Cactus. What a beauty this one is with its white flowers flushed with pink, looking like tiny ballerinas. The branches are made up of flat, glossy green segments. Easy from cuttings, it flourishes in warmth (about 65 degrees), likes its soil to be moist and enjoys a bright position. When buds form, feed every two weeks. Flowers can be red, pink, white, yellow or purple.

Tradescantia fluminensis

Its owner thinks the name sounds like a magic spell. Named after the famous Tradescants who were botanists, gardeners and plant collectors in the 16th and 17th centuries. Small, green leaves with purple undersides scramble downwards. Very attractive on a shelf or table. Easy to propagate pieces of this by placing cuttings in a glass of water, mutter the words ‘Tradescantia fluminensis’ and watch the roots grow.

Sanseveria trifasciata ‘Moonshine’

There are many different varieties of the structural Mother-in- Law’s Tongue, and this is one of the nicest. Can be propagated from leaf cuttings, like Streptocarpus. Low maintenance, drought tolerant, placed in a good light with the occasional drop of water, not too warm, it will stay there happily for a long time. Rather like a mother-in-law, except they like lots of tea and gin.

Calathea

In the pot on the right. (Oxalis to the left.) This one should be called Lazarus by its owner, because it was resurrected from the dead. Strangely, the theme continues, because these are commonly known as Prayer Plants – their leaves fold together at night like praying hands. (A process called nyctinasty. You heard it here.) Shiny, dark green leaves with a purple underside. Likes humid conditions and bright indirect light. Water every one to two weeks.

Begonia ‘Black Fancy’

A fabulous form of the type, cascading downwards in leafy profusion. Good in shade, and this one proves it because it’s sitting on a bookshelf next to a north-facing window. Can be propagated by division and also from leaf cuttings stuck at an angle into gritty compost.

Adiantum

The Maidenhair Fern. A spectacular plant if you can provide the perfect environment for it. Bright, indirect light and evenly moist soil are critical. Their roots need moisture (but not puddles).

Phlebodium ‘Blue Star’

A Fern with gorgeous blue/grey leaves which have rippled edges and grow in all directions. Has strange furry ‘feet’ (the roots), hence its other common name, the Rabbit’s Foot Fern. Likes full or partial shade and moist but not wet soil.

Also fondly mentioned were: Haemanthus albiflos, Dracaena marginata, Philodendron, Pachyra aquatica, Aloe, Ficus, Kentia Palm and Anthurium.

Pests and Diseases

Many houseplants love to have a spell outdoors during the warm summer months. A breath of fresh air before they come back in for autumn and winter does them good and helps prevent pests.

Mealybugs can be a problem: sap-sucking insects which leave a tell-tale white fluffy coating on leaves. Cotton wool dipped in alcohol or meths can be wiped over the affected areas – or soft soap. S.B. Invigorator is a spray which is widely used in the horticultural trade – it will also deal with a variety of other pests and mildew and provides a foliar feed. Biodegradable and pet-friendly too. Another alternative is to use biological controls.

Keep plants healthy by not overwatering, feeding judiciously and by repotting them in appropriate compost when required. Talk to them as well.

Jobs for the Week

Plant bulbs for indoors and out

It’s not too late to plant prepared bulbs for flowering indoors. Paperwhites and Hyacinths are particularly suitable. Outdoors, narcissus and tulips can still go in.

Prick out hardy annuals

Cut back Peonies

Tidy up Asters and cut them back

Divide Hostas and other herbaceous perennials

Sow Sweet Peas

Warning

Once bitten by the houseplant bug (not literally we hope) care needs to be taken lest one becomes addicted to this new enthusiasm.

In some houseplant households, even the candles are houseplant-shaped

And your bathroom might end up like this –

What’s more, the consequent shortage of space may reduce other residents to sitting on the roof.

HouseplantAddictsAnonymous.co.uk may be a helpful source of information.

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